Monday, January 30, 2006


Post and discuss.


Judy B. said...

Skyrocketing housing costs have priced many out of the housing market. Affordable housing for underserved working people is an area that needs much discussion and action.

I believe affordable housing needs to not only address the initial cost of a home, but also the cost of maintaining it. We need energy efficient housing for everyone, particular for the low income.

Housing is the biggest investment most people make. That makes the home construction industry one of the biggest drivers of our economy.

The question I pose for discussion is:
How can we encourage/facilitate the building of smaller, more energy efficient houses?

skids said...

Well, you already saw this back on the SSB blog but just to add fodder:


Landlord Utilities Incentive

Submitted by anonymous in Massachusetts

Problem: Landlords who do not include utilities in the rent have little incentive to improve the efficiency of their properties. Many rental properties are abysmally insulated, almost never employ any solar/geoexchange heating technology, and have extremely old and wasteful appliances. Conversly, where utilities are included, tenants have no incentive to conserve power in even the most basic ways.

Solution: Landlords are encouraged to switch to "Utility Allowance" leases. This means that the tenant has energy allowances (separate for heat, electricity) that he may or may not exceed. If the allowance is not exceeded, the landlord pockets the difference. If it is, the tenant must pay. In order to encourage this type of arrangement, a coordinated effort would use standards (including tenant consumer protections,) new energy company metering/accounting systems, and maybe tax incentives.

Benefits: Beyond overall energy conservation, tenants would benefit from a more stable and predicatable financial obligation. As landlords made properties more efficient, rents would lower during market downturns. Investments in improvements by landlords would stimulate the manufacturing and construction services economies.

I'm actually pretty serious about the above, to the point that I've started doing a bit of research to turn it into draft legislation to run past my state rep.

Judy B. said...

Skids, that makes a lot of sense to me. As you refine your idea, keep it updated here. I might try to run wit it in Washington State as well.

I am going to try to refine my affordable housing idea:
and try to move forward with it too...

Marilynn M said...

One thing that would help is if FHA building standards were improved. The differences in building codes from state to state make no sense to me.

In Oregon 6" think walls are required in new construction. That should be done everywhere. The extra insulation would save tremendously winter and summer.

Everywhere I've even lived except Texas tornado country the houses are bolted to the foundation.

They don't even use the metal ties to fasten the studs together (to maybe keep the roof on your house in what they call a straight wind storm.

There are no fire blocks in the walls. They don't use fire code sheetrock between the house and garage.

One obvious thing they don't seem to feel is important are rain gutters. There is usually three feet of it over the back door. The front usually has it around the entrance.

Our insurance costs are outragous because if your house catches fire more than likely it is gone.

All houses should have triple pane windows to cut heating/cooling costs.

The cost of houses isn't the whole reason people are priced out. Land and improvements, streets, sewers, water are sometimes right up there with the cost of the building.

Judy B. said...

Marilyn, the idea I submitted on afforadable housing is as follows:
The Issue:
Affordable Housing;
There is a solution for the working poor. It is Natural building methods (such as Cob construction, straw bale construction, etc.).
It works in all climates, uses recycled materials and natural resources that are close by, uses passive solar for much of their energy, and is labor intensive and cheap to build.

The problem:
Very few government entities have building codes that address alternative construction methods
Builders and buyers are unaware of the benefits and the beauty that can be incorporated.

The solution:
Federal incentives (revenue sharing/block grants) to local government entities to do demonstration projects and upgrade building codes.
Tax credits to builders for “learning the trade” and work co-operatively with local government to develop demonstration projects.

The benefit:
low cost housing that is energy efficient and easy and cheap to maintain
new technology and new businesses crop up around building industry
Working poor could have a place to call home

Marilynn M said...

Judy, Several years ago there were a couple of houses built using baled straw in Sutter County, California. It was pretty interesting. If you shearch you might find the web site. Adobe is also another source of building materials. That in fact with proper instruction a person could do themselves. There are houses still standing that were built in the 1800s in California. Personally I love the thought of adobe.

Judy B. said...

Most of the adobe houses that I am familiar with are good quality, energy efficient but not so affordable.. A good choice for those who can afford it. Straw bale can be as cheap or as expensive as the builder decides; it does have the advantage of energy efficiency. Cob housing is very inexpensive to build, but quite labor intensive. On one of the blogs, Debbie mentioned stryofoam building blocks filled with concrete.. I don't know anything about that..
My main consideration (in the idea I submitted)was that most of our building codes have not been updated to to include the new technologies and energy efficient methods that are now available..
Cities get block grant funding passed back to them to be used specially in low icome neighborhoods. Using some of this money to update the codes could have a big impact on the homebuioding segment, and help our working poor get into a livable home without the worry of utility bills taking a lot of their money.

Marilynn M said...

The very reason I like adobe is because you can do it yourself. I don't know the exact recipe but it is clay (from the ground) mixed with water, straw and lime? Pretty close to free. You have to build forms out of wood to put your mix in. After it has set up enough you remove the forms and reuse to make more bricks. They are dried in the sun. It requires a lot of labor. But, is pretty cheap on materials. With triple pane windows and good insulation in the attic you would have an energy efficient house at a reasonable cost if you did the work yourself.

Judy B. said...

What you are describing sounds like what I know as cob construction.. Yes it is labor intensive, and also very inexpensive as one of the halmarks of the construction is to use recycled marerials as much as possible..
The labor part can be made easier by using equipment, but for those who can't afford the equipment, it can still be done, as you described.

I sent my nephew to a two week class (intensive) to learn the trade.. it really takes longer than that for the novice but he is a builder by nature and he learned a lot..
There are several "communities" in the U. S. that teach the trade, that is why I was proposing upgrading building codes for them...
In Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia there is a lot of interest. I saw one website on cob that was in Texas, and several back east, mostly New England.

Cob Construction dates back many hundreds of years. there are many in the British Isles that are 200-300 years old and still being used.

Marilynn M said...

Judy, I love them. Those would be fun to build. I'd want to be sure there was plenty of clay in the mix, but I see no reason they wouldn't work. They could be more attractive than a building using adobe blocks. I have never heard of cob construction before. I had visions of something pretty lame. This is also something a person could do themselvess. Lots of work little actual cost.

Judy B. said...

Marilyn, check out this website

One of the concerns that i have about housing in third world countries is that we try to make them conform to our building methods.. A very caring group in one of our local social/civic organizations goes to Mexico to help build homes using concrete block, etc. Cob would be so much better to teach.

Marilynn M said...

Wow, I wonder if Jimmy Carter is aware of this system of building? I'd like to see habitat build a bunch of cob houses in Mexico.

Judy B. said...

Here is another web site for cob housing:
This is the one that I sent my nephew to.

If you are really thinking about leaving Texas, you also might want to check out Oregon..Great state.

Marilynn M said...

Thanks Judy, I love oregon. I used to live in Roseburg. I also lived in Tacoma and Renton. Actually I've lived lots of places. Texas is by far the ugliest.

john Ashman said...

We call it adobe, but i guess it seems new to some.

Judy B. said...

Adobe and Cob are similar, but not the same... either way they tend to be much more energy efficient.

Judy B. said...

Besides that John, nobody said it was new.. if you read my post I talked about Cob houses still in use that are 200 to 300 years old.

What I am talking about is affordable, energy efficient housing that isn't readily available because there isn't building codes written for them..

Marilynn M said...

John, Cob and adobe are not the same. The main ingredient of cob is straw. While the main ingredient of adobe is mud (clay). Cob is built with cobs of mud soaked straw. Adobe is generally dried bricks.

john Ashman said...

Well, this "cob" construction has been used here for centuries in the pueblos and contains straw. But we still, wrong or not, call it adobe or mud construction.

Richard Yarnell said...

Adobe brink, indeed, is usually reinforced. (I lived next to a yard where adobe was produced by hand and it did incorporate straw, or at least grass.) It relies on a supply of true clay soil.

Cob also uses vegetable reinforing but the method of production varies by region.

As you would expect, clay mud construction originated in the Mediterranean region. "Adobe" is derived from a Coptic word, Coptic being an ancient Egytian language. (Do you suppose it's coincidence that mud construction that reached this country via Europe is called "Cob?" Adobe reached the new world with the Spanish who had adopted the technique after learning it from the Egyptians.

Fascinating, isn't it?